Exceptional trees - General Sherman Sequoiadendron giganteum

There surely can be nothing more impressive than seeing trees that are champions in their genus.  Huge trees, tall trees, wide trees, or very, very old trees.  Estimated at over 2,100 years old, one tree that is regarded by many as the champion of champions is General Sherman, a giant redwood (Sequoiadendron giganteum) in California, boasting the world's largest volume among all trees and holding the title of being the largest living organism on Earth.  Standing at a height of approximately 275 feet and stretching about 100 feet wide, its volume exceeds 52,500 cubic feet, which equates to over 13 double decker buses or four 25m swimming pools!

At the beginning of the twentieth century, there was a fashion for tunnelling through these gentle giants to allow a car to drive through them.  Many photographs of the time show unforgettable images of family cars passing through the tunnelled-out trunk.  Though the practice achieved its aim of attracting tourists to the area,  many of the trees did not survive and this ill-conceived marketing ploy has long since been abandoned.

In 2021, a wildfire swept through the National Park forcing firefighters to take extraordinary measures to safeguard the General Sherman Tree.  Wrapping it in protective aluminium, they shielded it from the flames. 

Interestingly there are thought to be around half a million Sequoias growing in the UK and recent estimates suggest this number equates to over six times the number of the trees growing in the US, their native habitat.  Ross Holland, a former Masters student at the UCL Department of Geography has said: “Redwoods are well adapted to the UK climate and are able to capture a large amount of carbon dioxide. We hope that these findings can help guide decisions on future tree planting and management.” 

Giant redwoods were first introduced as seed to the UK in 1853 by William Lobb, a plant hunter and employee of Veitch Nurseries of Exeter.  An expensive plant due to their rarity and desirability, it was only in grand estates that they were originally planted.  It seems our passion for the exotic may have created an ‘ark’ that could unwittingly lead to the survival of this now-threatened species.